Tag Archives: Tikkun Olam

Shavuot and the Christian Revisited

Torah is the life blood of the Jewish people. Our enemies have always known that when we Jews stop learning Torah, our assimilation is inevitable. Without knowledge there is no commitment. One cannot love what he does not know. A person cannot do or understand what he has never learned.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly for Shavuot”
Aish.com

tongues of fireIn the past, I’ve written quite a bit on the Festival of Shavuot such as Bamidbar and Shavuot: Souls in the Desert and What Should Shavuot Mean to Me. This holiday commemorates the giving of the Torah to the Children of Israel at Sinai. Shavuot is also closely associated with the Pentecost event as recorded in Acts 2:1-13.

Of late, I have distanced myself from more formal expressions of Messianic Judaism, and so I decided to revisit the question “What should Shavuot mean to me?” I reviewed my previous comments on the matter. Things have changed even more since then.

In his commentary, Rabbi Packouz continued:

A Jew is commanded to learn Torah day and night and to teach it to his children. If a Jew wants his family to be Jewish and his children to marry other Jews, then he must integrate a Torah study program into his life and implement the teachings into his home and his being. One can tell his children anything, but only if they see their parents learning and doing mitzvot, will they inherit the love for being Jewish. Remember: a parent only owes his child three things — example, example, example.

Well, that’s for a Jew. The Torah wasn’t given to the nations at Sinai and we didn’t inherit it either at Acts 2 or Acts 15. We have, by inference, received the promise of the Holy Spirit and Acts 10 does record non-Jews receiving such a Spirit, so the Pentecost event should have some significance for us.

But there’s a disconnect between people of the nations receiving the Spirit and other of the New Covenant blessings solely by the grace and mercy of God, and the Children of Israel receiving the Torah as the conditions of the Sinai Covenant.

So we non-Jewish disciples of our Rav should be cautious as to how much of Shavuot we claim, since it doesn’t belong to us. While I enjoy reading Rabbi Packouz and the other Aish rabbis, I’m distinctly aware that they are writing solely for a Jewish audience. It’s just that they can’t block any non-Jew who happens to visit their site.

As I was reading R. Packouz, a pop-up appeared inviting me to chat with an Aish.com Rabbi. I don’t know what I’d say and I’m sure he’d be in the same bind, hence I minimized the window.

I did come across another Aish article written by Rabbi Moshe Greene called The Yiddish Speaking Latino Cop. I won’t quote from it, but I encourage you to read it, as the article describes how a non-Jewish retired police officer named Donny became so close to a great chassidic leader, that he “picked up” Yiddish, and perhaps much more.

Tikkum OlamUltimately, the story is about encouraging Jewish unity, not the role of a non-Jew in that process. That said, it was Donny who asked Rabbi Greene a pointed question that resulted in his writing about the encounter for Shavuot.

But unlike Donny, we might not find ourselves in a unique position to have those insights and experiences that might actually cause a Rabbi to think in a new direction. However, as R. Greene mentioned (though regarding only Jews), we all can participate in the process of Tikkun Olam, or making the world a better place.

Perhaps for the Gentile, Shavuot is less about the Torah, the Sinai Covenant, the Festival, and the traditions, than it is a reminder that as possessors of the Spirit of God and in the name of our Rav, we too can do our part to make the world just a little bit better.

In that, there are no limits.

Repairing the Non-Disposable World

This world is known as the “World of Rectification” (The Works of Kabbalah).

I wonder what the ancient Kabbalists would say about the modern world. Our everyday life certainly does not appear to be a “world of rectification.”

To rectify means to repair or correct an existing defect. This practice has become almost extinct. Years ago, things that went wrong were repaired; today, they are simply replaced. Replacing an item is cheaper than going to the trouble of having it repaired. When we add the vast numbers of disposable items that have become commonplace, we have a life-style where “rectifying,” at least of objects that we use are concerned, is a rather infrequent phenomenon.

Unfortunately, this attitude of replacing items rather than trying to repair them has extended itself from object relationships to people relationships. The most dramatic evidence is the unprecedented number of divorces. In the past, a couple that developed problems would try to repair the relationship. Most often, the attempt succeeded. Today, people do not want to waste time and effort; rather, they simply terminate the relationship and replace it with a new one. Human beings, much like styrofoam cups and contact lenses, have become “disposable.”

We would do well to make at least our interpersonal relationships comply with the Kabbalistic concept of “World of Rectification.”

Today I shall…

try to appreciate the unique character of an interpersonal relationship and make every effort to preserve it.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
from “Growing Each Day” for Nisan 18
Aish.com

disposable
Image: Hearst Newspapers

I know, I know. Kabbalah turns off a lot of people. Heck, even Talmud turns off a lot of people, generally Christians, and sometimes more specifically people who believe they can observe the mitzvot as written in the Torah without any interpretation by the Jewish sages.

Be that as it may (and setting aside any objections to Jewish mysticism for the moment), I think there’s an important lesson in the message above. Our modern western culture is one that values objects that are disposable rather than renewable or repairable.

We have disposable diapers, disposable cameras, disposable batteries, and so on. Consumer products are made with something called, “planned obsolescence,” that is, instead of making a car or a refrigerator that will last as long as possible and be repairable when broken, products are made to wear out within a certain span of months or years, and then the consumer has to buy a new one.

That gets expensive.

Heck, this has even approached the planetary level if you believe Stephen Hawking when he says the human race must colonize space to survive.

There are all kinds of people and groups, from Mars One (which some folks think is a fraud) to Elon Musk that are actively planning manned missions to the Red Planet with colonization as the ultimate goal.

I guess that means we get to burn out and use up the planet we currently live on. Just throw it away. Planets are disposable as long as we have other planets to colonize.

I seriously doubt we’ll get that far at least in my lifetime.

Mars One
Image: Space.com

Are people disposable?

Depends on who you ask. If you bring the abortion debate into the conversation, then pro-abortion folks believe that unborn children are disposable.

What about those of us who have already been born?

Rabbi Twerski, who I quoted above, mentioned that marriages are becoming more disposable all the time.

Yes, in some cases, I can see the need for a couple to divorce, in cases of infidelity or abuse, but I suspect, just like abortions, people become disposable simply because they become inconvenient. Problems are a nuisance to be avoided, not challenges to be overcome.

Again, I realize not all difficulties have a simple solution that preserves relationships, but too many people never even try.

There’s a concept in Judaism called Tikkun Olam which more or less translates as “Repair the World”.

The idea is that our world and everything (and everyone) in it are ultimately “fixable” rather than disposable.

Tikkun Olam can be applied to just about everything from environmentalism to marriage counseling. If something is valuable (and certainly our world is valuable), then we must become good stewards of what we have, taking care of it, maintaining it, protecting it, and when broken or damaged, repairing it.

Where to start?

How about with you?

cyborg repair
Emily Cyborg by Skidtography

I don’t mean “you” as a particular person such as “you have a problem,” but I mean “you” as in all of us, each individual. No one is perfect, and certainly some people are more “broken” than others. In order to be able to repair a broken world and the damaged people in it, we must first do that for ourselves?

What stops us from doing that?

Are you happy with who you are? Wish you could change, but don’t know how? Wondering how does one make real changes?

The formula is straightforward:

  1. Recognize that there is need for improvement.
  2. Make a decision to improve.
  3. Make a plan.
  4. Follow through on the plan.

What holds us back? We think we can’t change. Rabbi Noah Weinberg, of blessed memory, the founder of Aish HaTorah, would ask his students, “If God would help you, could you do it?” The answer is obviously “Yes.” Then he’d ask, “Do you think the Almighty wants you to change, to improve?” The answer again is obviously “Yes”. So, why is it so difficult to change? It’s too painful. One doesn’t want to take the pain of change. Only through taking the pain and realizing that time is limited will we change.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly” for the Seventh Day of Passover
Aish.com

Well, that sounds like a showstopper. No one likes pain. Remember, we make disposable things (and people) because we don’t like to go through the effort of repairing and maintaining things (and people).

But how can you be “disposable” to yourself?

Gee, that’s a tough one.

On another one of my blogs, I wrote about Everyone’s Hard Battle, which in this case means, the battle of depression and suicidal ideation. Interestingly enough, I also quoted from Rabbi Twerski in that wee essay.

psych couchThat other blogspot is dedicated to promoting exercise for the older person, and at least for me, sometimes lifting weights is better than seeing a shrink.

Maybe that’s the answer. No, exercise as a means of stress release and discipline isn’t the answer for everyone, but finding something you’re passionate about is. Find something that drives you, something that’s hard but also irresistible. You might have to choose something you’re only lukewarm about and over time, make it a habit. That’s sort of how my workouts at the gym evolved.

For many religious Jews, it’s studying Torah. For some Christians, it’s studying the Bible. It’s examining the Word of the Almighty, not just by reading your Bible periodically, but by consulting knowledgable resources, praying, and actively meditating over what you are learning, integrating that process into your life and every possible manner.

Making drawing closer to God your passion.

Of course, there are plenty of other ways to repair yourself and thus begin to repair the world. No one can tell you your passion, you have to find it (or make it) for yourself.

God created our world and the people in it, and through human disobedience to Him, we broke the world and the people in it. But God made sure the world and the people are “fixable”. Someday, He will send Messiah who is the “ultimate fixer,” the King who will repair our world, but that doesn’t mean we have to leave it all to him.

It is said in Judaism that each act of Tikkun Olam performed brings the coming of Messiah one step closer. That means we are active participants in not only bringing our Rav and our King back to our world, but active participants in our own “repair work”. We are partners with the Almighty in the most awesome and ambitious construction (or re-construction) project ever conceived.

approaching GodThe only thing slowing progress down to a crawl is us. If we see ourselves as helpless victims, we go nowhere. If we see ourselves as empowered by God, as partners with God working to improve ourselves and improve the world, then we should have the motivation to overcome inertia, realize our brokenness can be repaired, decide to do something about it, plan on how to do something about it, and then actually do something about it.

We don’t have to do it alone. The all-powerful, all-seeing, all-knowing unfailing, creative, One God is our partner. So let’s get to work.

Perfecting Humanity

This week’s Torah portion is Noah — the story of the world being destroyed by a flood because of the way people treated each other (see Dvar Torah). It is a lesson that we all need to take to heart. Did you ever ask yourself, “What would it take to create a perfect world and perfect humanity?” Here’s my list. These are all ideas culled from the Torah, the Instruction Book for Life.

10 Rules for Perfecting Humanity

  1. Speak Properly
  2. Act with Honesty and Integrity
  3. Respect Others
  4. Be Kind to Others
  5. Study Wisdom
  6. Work for a Cause
  7. Be Humble
  8. Pray
  9. Make a Daily Accounting
  10. Be Real with God and Life

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
Shabbat Shalom Weekly
Aish.com

NoahGiven that I’m reasonably “settled” in what I have to do and how I have to do it in having a relationship with God while also being “Judaicly aware” (not that I’m very good at doing it all), I haven’t expected to write much more on this blog, or at least I thought I wouldn’t write very often.

But since the Torah Portion for this week is Noah, the story of a righteous Gentile, and that Judaism considers Hashem’s covenant with Noah (all living things, really) to be binding on all non-Jewish humanity even to this day, I thought I should draw some attention to the Rabbi’s commentary.

Notice that the list above are 10 rules for perfecting humanity not just Jewish people. Of course, Rabbi Packouz is writing to a Jewish audience, but I don’t think that invalidates the application of his advice to the rest of us. Also notice that the advice applicable to the Gentile was derived from the Torah.

Someone (a non-Jewish believer) commented on this recent blog post that the Torah is universal. He meant that every detail and every mitzvah is universally applied to all human beings who are either Jewish or Gentile disciples of Rav Yeshua (Jesus).

Well, of course the Torah is universal. Rabbi Packouz’s list illustrates this perfectly. However, that there are principles and even praxis in the Torah that are equally relevant to the Jew and Gentile doesn’t mean that all of Torah is equally applicable.

But let’s take what we’ve got in the list above.

First, go to the original article and read how R. Packouz “fleshes out” each item on the list.

Next, let’s consider how well each of us does on a daily basis in fulfilling every one of the ten items above.

Do we speak properly? This pretty much means not engaging in gossip or idle chatter about other people, even though there are some folks who get an emotional charge out of tearing someone else down, especially when that someone else has made mistakes and is reaping the consequences.

That sort of goes along with item 4: Be Kind to Others. No matter how unappealing or even sinful a person looks on the outside, first remember that none of us is perfect either, and then realize that everyone is fighting a hard battle, not just you.

cookie jarDo we act with honesty and integrity? As disciples of Rav Yeshua, I hope so, but let’s face it, more than one religious person, Christian and Jew, has been caught with his or her hand in the cookie jar. Sometimes how we recover from a mistake tells more about our character than never making one.

Do we respect others? I guess I should have put this one in with items 1 and 4, since our respecting all other people based on them also being created in the image of the Almighty would probably eliminate the vast majority of unkind and improper behavior in the world.

Study Wisdom. In this case R. Packouz cites both Torah and Pirke Avot, but I find it interesting that Theodore Roosevelt once said, “A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.” Clearly, both Packouz and Roosevelt are saying very similar things. Acts 15:21 also seems to imply that the non-Jew can benefit from being grounded in Torah study (the Christian Bible obviously didn’t exist at that point in time) and there’s a lot to gain for a non-Jew studying Torah besides merely learning to imitate Jewish praxis.

Work for a Cause. They say charity begins at home but it doesn’t end there. Even if we sometimes question exactly what our mission is on Earth from God’s point of view, it’s pretty easy to look around our community and see needs. Find one you can fulfill.

Be Humble. That’s hard to do in the blogosphere. You’d think religious bloggers would be experts at this one, but often the exact opposite is true. R. Packouz says that wisdom only enters a humble person, so item 5 does nothing for you unless you also practice item 7.

Pray. Again, hopefully we are all doing this every day…maybe even every hour depending on what’s happening in our lives. These aren’t just petitions to fulfill personal needs, although this too is appropriate in prayer. Many of the personal prayers we find in the Bible are praise to God. Also, praying goes along with items 3, 4, and 6. When we pray for others, we integrate them into our thoughts and emotions, and out of that, we can act to be the answer to their prayers.

Make a Daily Accounting. This is an ugly one. Oh sure, if you’re a saint and you never sin, then this accounting is your personal victory list for the day. However, if you are a human being, there are bound to be at least a little bit of red on your ledger that needs to be wiped clean.

waiting-for-godBeing real with God would be easy, you’d think. He knows everything, after all. You can lie to others convincingly, but you can’t lie to God (no matter how much you might want to sometimes). Being real with God is baring your soul to Him. Being real with life is applying your relationship with God to your lived experience and connections to other people.

So, you’ve been through the 10 rules for perfecting human beings. You don’t have to say how you did. I’m certainly not going to share the gruesome details about my performance on the list.

But you can share it with God and see how He can help you and me be better tomorrow than we’ve been today.

Fish Out Of Water

FishOutofWaterA true master of life never leaves this world—he transcends it, but he is still within it.

He is still there to assist those who are bonded with him with blessing and advice, just as before, and even more so.

Even those who did not know him in his corporeal lifetime can still create with him an essential bond.

The only difference is in us: Now we must work harder to connect.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Connecting”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

“The Son of David will not come till a fish is sought for an invalid and cannot be found.”

-Talmud, Sanhedrin 98a

The Son of David is a diminutive reference to the Messiah, who will be a descendent of the royal house of David, King of Israel. The diminutive reference is strange in itself, but even more strange is the contention that the coming of the Messiah is dependent on an invalid in search of an unfound fish. What did Rabbi Menachem Mendel see in this passage that could reflect on his present situation?

-Rabbi Eli Rubin
“Lisbon 1941: The Messiah, the Invalid, and the Fish:
The private journal of the Lubavitcher Rebbe reveals a dual vision for the future of humanity”
Chabad.org

My wife sent me the email version of Rabbi Rubin’s article about the Rebbe, the Messiah, the Invalid, and the Fish and I still can’t figure out why. Maybe she just thought I’d find it intellectually stimulating or maybe she was sending me a message about my faith in Jesus as Messiah.

I do find it stimulating, which is why I’m writing about it, but more than that, I think the Rebbe’s message about Messiah tells us something about ourselves.

But I’ll get to that in a moment. One of the things I found in the article and learned at some previous point in time is that at least within some streams of Judaism, there is no single scenario that is thought to bring the Messiah. As far as what the Rebbe was teaching he said that there were two different generations that could possibly see the Messiah come: one that was entirely worthy or one that was entirely unworthy.

Seems contradictory and unnecessarily complicated from a Christian point of view. We tend to think that the Messiah will come when he comes. It’s up to God, not us. We can’t do anything about it and we certainly can’t be “worthy” of his coming.

…as it is written:

“There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God.”

Romans 3:10-11 (NRSV)

But then, as my wife has told me before, Christians and Jews think in fundamentally different ways. As I previously said, in certain areas of Judaism, it is thought that people have the ability to change the timing of Messiah’s arrival based on our collective behavior. That then lends itself to multiple circumstances by which Messiah could appear (or “return” from the Christian perspective):

Rabbi Menachem Mendel offers two explanations of the earlier passage, corresponding to these alternative scenarios. In the first, the redemption is well deserved due to the lofty station at which society has arrived; in the second, redemption is bestowed because the alternative is utter deterioration.

This brings us back to our invalid: The diminutive designation “Son of David” indicates that the redeemer is worthy of his messianic status only due to his lineage. Likewise, the generation to be redeemed is also deficient, suffering from the spiritual maladies of sin and moral degeneration.

At a time when the world was ailing, and the Holocaust was already underway, Rabbi Menachem Mendel confronted the paradoxical possibility of evil in the presence of G‑d. The cause of such spiritual illness, he wrote, is human forgetfulness. We can do evil only if we forget that we are in the presence of G‑d.

lisbon-to-new-yorkThe Rebbe’s commentary didn’t come out of a vacuum. The backdrop for all this was the Holocaust, World War Two, when the Rebbe and his wife were trying to leave Lisbon for the United States to escape Nazis in 1941. The time when the world went mad or as mad as anyone thought we could get up to that point.

“We can do evil only if we forget that we are in the presence of G‑d.”

Well, yes and no.

“Yes,” in the sense that when we believe we are doing “evil” or anything wrong, we cannot simultaneously be acutely conscious of the fact that God is watching over our shoulder, so to speak. It would be like a man cheating on his wife while his wife was in the same room. If we choose to sin, we must temporarily pretend that God isn’t watching in order not to be immediately seized with horrible guilt (of course if we are wired correctly in a moral and spiritual sense, we should experience guilt anyway, even without a direct awareness of the presence of God).

But it is also “no” in the sense that we do “evil” and do not recognize what we are doing is evil. People who operate within the bounds of what you might call “self-righteousness” are quite guilty of this and also quite unaware of their guilt. In fact, they might feel completely justified and even believe that God approves of their evil acts, calling their evil “good.”

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

Isaiah 5:20

For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.

2 Timothy 4:3-4

The Westboro Baptist Church is the most extreme example I can think of within “Christianity,” though I don’t count them as disciples of Christ. They perform heinous acts against grieving families of American military personnel who have died in the service of our country and believe it is somehow all for the glory of Jesus.

Of course, most believers commit such “evil” in far less spectacular ways but they are no more conscious of their wrongdoing than the aforementioned Westboro folks. Confront them if you will, but they’ll turn every argument you make against you (and that’s happened to me more than once) as if you, in attempting to uphold the Biblical principles of forgiveness, kindness, and compassion are making terrible Biblical errors and their own fire-breathing doctrine is the only way to please God.

That makes the following statement all the more ironic.

This is where the Talmudic fish comes in. Fish are a metaphor for the knowledge that we are ever submerged in the presence of G‑d. Just as a fish cannot live out of water, so the spiritual health of humanity can be preserved only if we are consciously aware of G‑d’s all-encompassing presence. It is at a moment that G‑d’s presence is utterly hidden—when no fish can be found for the invalid—that the redemption must arrive.

Ironic and true.

We live in a world where no fish can be found, when it seems as if the presence of God has completely left our world. Good literally is being called evil and evil is literally being called good in terms of the various social priorities and journalistic pronouncements we find daily in the popular media.

I keep expecting Jesus to come around the corner at any second, given what the Rebbe has said.

“Just as a fish cannot live out of water, so the spiritual health of humanity can be preserved only if we are consciously aware of G‑d’s all-encompassing presence.”

We are one sick and dying fish.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel’s second interpretation lays out the flip side of this vision. So long as the hand of G‑d has not yet been forced, and the redemption has not yet arrived, the burden of responsibility still lies on the shoulders of humanity. We can repair the world, so we must repair the world, ultimately bringing it to an era that is “entirely worthy” and ripe for redemption. In an era of human perfection, man will strive to lose all sense of ego, desiring to become utterly submerged within the divine self.

But maybe not completely dead (though I wouldn’t say we can possibly be “worthy”).

feeding_the_hungryAt least from a Jewish point of view, we can do something to help. Maybe we can’t actually summon the Messiah, which is what a Christian believes, but we can still be more “Messiah-like.” Some Christians used to wear those “WWJD” or “What Would Jesus Do” bracelets, but we can go one better and just do what Jesus would do in the world. What did he teach? Is the answer going to come as a big surprise?

Feed the hungry, visit the sick, comfort the grieving, help anyone hurting in whatever way they need help. Change someone’s flat tire. Volunteer to take “meals on wheels” to the elderly and the infirm. Pick a need and fulfill it. I don’t care which one. Just quit being a “sick fish” by going out of your way to hurt other people because that is your special or only way of “serving” God.

According to the Rebbe’s metaphor, the fish is “sick” for the love of God but as immersed as the fish is, the fish and the water aren’t ever going to be the same thing:

Similarly, the worthy invalid is “sick” with love for G‑d, desiring utter submergence but unable to cross the infinite divide separating man from G‑d.

The best we can do, and that’s only by the grace of God, is to imitate our Master in how we do good to others. Maybe that will bring the Messiah back sooner and maybe it won’t but it sure couldn’t hurt. In fact, it probably will do some good, if not in a cosmic sense, then at least in a down-to-earth human sense.

Four decades later, Rabbi Menachem Mendel delivered a public talk in which he explained that at every moment we face two very different visions of the future. On the one hand, we anticipate the imminent revelation of a new era of eternal good; on the other hand, we invest long-term commitment and energy into a more gradual transformational process, changing the world from the bottom up.

I don’t believe the world and the people in it are anywhere near “the imminent revelation of a new era of eternal good.” Looking at the news headlines for five minutes will tell you that humanity is no better now than at any time in the past, and some might argue that we’re getting worse all the time. That leaves the Rebbe’s “Plan B:” investing in a long-term commitment to gradually transform the world from the bottom up, one act of kindness at a time.

Multiple sources have been attributed to the famous quote, “If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.” Whoever first said it knew what they were talking about. Sitting on your bottom and doing nothing isn’t actively “evil” but it does nothing to produce “good.”

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

-Edmund Burke

That’s pretty much it. How many “good men” did nothing while six-million Jews died? How many good men have done nothing while countless men, women, and children starved, or died in wars, or died in riots, or died due to political indifference to human rights?

Doing nothing won’t keep you safe and doing evil in the name of good is just as bad or worse.

If we are truly connected to God and truly love Him, then we have no choice but to also love human beings. God loves human beings…all of us, regardless of race, creed, color, nationality, language, and (gasp) religion. Like it or not, God loves the Muslim, the Taoist, the Buddhist, as well as God loves the Christian and the Jew. God loves us even though we screw up pretty much all the time, even the best of us.

If we restrict our love, then we are hardly being “Christ-like” and thus we’ve already tainted our response to God and our ability to do good in the world.

“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?”

Matthew 5:46

rocket-scienceThis isn’t rocket science. This isn’t esoteric and arcane knowledge hidden within the murky depths of some obscure part of the Bible. This is the “easy stuff.” Well, it’s easy in that it’s pretty easy to comprehend. Obviously given the state of certain areas of the religious blogosphere and various believing congregations, home groups, and families scattered across the landscape, it’s not really that easy to do, otherwise there’d be a power surge of constantly doing good in the world.

Take a look at the last time you talked to another person. Was it in kindness, indifference, or anger? If you’re a blogger (or you comment on blogs), what was the last topic you wrote or commented on? Were you encouraging and supportive? Were you insulting and accusatory? Given everything I’ve written so far, you should be able to quickly figure out if you’re doing the will of the Master in the world or the opposite.

Do not bring us into the power of error, nor the power of transgression and sin, nor into the power of challenge, nor into the power of scorn. Let not the Evil Inclination dominate us. Distance us from an evil person and an evil companion. Attach us to the Good Inclination and to good deeds and compel our Evil Inclination to be subservient to You. Grant us today and every day grace, kindness, and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us.

-from the Siddur

You’re either a fish in the water immersed into the reality of God or you’re a fish out of water (Marco Polo). If you’re out, then you’re dying and you don’t even know it. You think you’re in a vast ocean when in fact, your tiny little puddle is evaporating like a raindrop in the Arizona desert sun in August. You don’t have much time.

I don’t believe people will ever be “worthy” enough for the age of Messiah to come. I think our world and the people in it will continue to degrade until he either comes or we destroy ourselves, eating each other alive. But those of us who are disciples of the Master can continue to strive to be a little more like him every day. In that way, maybe he will find at least a few people who have faith when he finally returns, may it be soon and in our day.

 

How Will Christians Perfect The World?

mikdoshIn “Laws of Kings”, chapter 11, topic 4, Rambam explains that the true Messiah (Mashiach) will bring about the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zephaniah 3:9. In the words of Rambam: “He [the true Messiah] will perfect the entire world, [motivating all the nations] to serve G-d together, as it is written, ‘For I [G-d] shall then make the peoples pure of speech so that they will all call upon the Name of G-d and serve Him with one purpose.’”

-from “What is the role of Gentiles in bringing the world to perfection?
AskNoah.org

With respect, the point is, I think, that although Christianity and Islam are not true, they have played a part in the Divine scheme for the redemption of the whole of humanity by spreading some sort of ethical monotheism involving an albeit incorrect idea of Messiah, Torah and Mitzvot. Although Islam and Christianity are part of the overall process leading to the redemption their imperfect ethical monotheism will be rectified through the adoption of the seven laws.

-quoted from mesora.org

This “meditation” bridges my recent blog posts Provoking Zealousness and Practicing Messianic What? Now that I think about it, I’m sure Distinctions and Messiah and the Temple of God also factor in.

It’s an interesting question. “What is the role of Gentiles in bringing the world to perfection?” It’s asked from an Orthodox Judaism perspective and particularly from the viewpoint of the Chabad as addressing Noahides (rather than Christians). I’m sure the answer is different when addressing Christianity, but let’s see what the Chabad has to say about Noahides perfecting the world.

“He [the true Messiah] will perfect the entire world”

From this we see that the culmination of Mashiach’s tasks (after he has become confirmed as “definitely Mashiach”) is his activity toward the rectification of the world and of the Gentile nations, not his activity for the perfection of Israel’s avodah [Divine service] through the observance of the Torah in tranquility. Why should specifically this be his main innovation?

In earlier eras, such as in the time of [Kings] Shlomo [Solomon] and Chizkiyahu [Hezekiah], Israel had already experienced the observance of the Torah in tranquility, even if not as completely as will be the case in the era of Mashiach. A state of perfection in the life of the Gentile nations, however, has never [yet] existed. (Source: Sefer HaSichos 5748 / 1988)

From the title of the original article, it seems as if we Gentiles have a role to play in the perfection of the world. The question actually reminded me of Jordan Levy’s recent article, “The Crowning Jewels of the Nations” (published in Messiah Journal, Issue 112) which discusses the Gentile Christian’s role in the redemption of Israel. However the Chabad responds by indicating that the Messiah will come to perfect the world (not just Israel). But there’s more.

This statement has halachic [Torah Law] implications, because (a) Jews should believe that Mashiach will perfect the entire world, and (b) Jews should endeavor to influence the nations of the world to observe the Seven [Noahide] Commandments which they have been given – as a foretaste and preparation for the perfection of the world by Mashiach. (Source: Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXIII)

rainbow-forestWhile Levy suggests that Christians have a vital and unique role is supporting Jewish return to Torah and God to thus “summon” the Messiah’s return, which will then lead to perfection of the world, Chabad reverses the order and says that Judaism and the Messiah will lead the Gentiles to perfection through the Noahide Laws.

In other words, from the Chabad’s perspective, Gentiles have no active role in perfecting the world either before or after the Messiah comes. We are just here to be acted upon by the Messiah and the Jewish people, and to be encouraged to comply with the Noahide laws as part of how Messiah will draw us all to the ways of peace. This, according to the article, is the result:

…[motivating all the nations] to serve G-d together…and serve Him with one purpose

Similarly, before the Giving of the Torah at Sinai, the Jews first had to be “like one man, with one heart” [as explained by Rashi on Exodus 19:2]. (Source: Likkutei Sichos, Shavuos, 5747 [1987])

“To serve Him” signifies prayer. This phrase thus echoes the prophetic promise [Isaiah 56:7], “…for My House [the Holy Temple] shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations.” (Source: Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XX)

I was hoping there might be some common ground between how some factions in Messianic Judaism and some factions within Orthodox Judaism see the role of Gentiles, but I guess that was too much to ask for. I suppose this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Orthodox Judaism, as do all Judaisms, has a good reason to back away from the idea that non-Jews could contribute anything positive to the world pre-Messiah. Messianic Judaism, by definition, must engage the “Messianic Gentile” and all other Christians, as co-heirs of “the Kingdom of Heaven,” and because of that, they see the Bible and Talmud through different eyes that allow some flexibility when defining the Gentile role.

While all of the traditional Judaisms define Jews as different but not superior to Gentiles, in my previous interactions with the folks at AskNoah.org (we’ve exchanged a few emails in the past), it seems important for the Jewish administration of the site to remain in control of when, where, and how Noahides understand their role and operate within the Noahide framework. On the other hand, how different is that from when James and the Jerusalem Council were debating and establishing “halachah” in relation to the non-Jewish disciples of the Master as they entered “the Way” in droves? You certainly wouldn’t want a bunch of recently pagan Gentiles starting to make rules and decisions about a wholly Jewish religious movement that uniquely allowed Gentile membership, would you (please detect the note of irony)?

But times have changed. Judaism and Christianity are now completely different religious movements. Only through Messianism (and arguably Hebrew/Jewish Roots) is there any degree of overlap and as we’ve seen in an endless stream of blogosphere debates, the overlap can be a sort of “demilitarized zone” where just about anything can happen.

In the days of James, Peter, John, and Paul, the Jerusalem Council was the final authority and the representatives of Messiah on Earth. Although Paul and James sometimes didn’t agree, Paul deferred to the Council since he was under authority, just as the Apostles were. That authority governed not only the Jewish disciples but the Gentiles as well. But no more.

up_to_jerusalemToday, Chabad (at least as far as AskNoah.org is concerned) administers this area governing the Noahides and those Gentiles who claim that status are under their authority.

In Messianic Judaism and/or Hebrew/Jewish Roots, there is no single, central authority. Yes, there are some governing bodies in Messianic Judaism (to the best of my knowledge, they don’t exist in Hebrew Roots), but their influence is localized and different congregations/worship groups adhere to different “umbrella” authorities.

In (Protestant) Christianity we say our “authority” is Jesus or the Holy Spirit, but that lacks a certain “concreteness” that is normally provided by human beings. Those of us who attend a church or other congregation, submit to the authority of the Pastor and board of directors or elders or deacons, but again, that’s pretty local. Of course, some denominations have a overseeing body that sets standards for their churches.

Who are we as non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah? What is our role relative to tikkun olam and as it is applied to the Jewish people, and in preparing the world for the Messiah’s return? Jordan Levy’s article has a pretty good answer but that answer might not “fit” everyone.

What do you think?

Provoking Zealousness

zealous-torah-studyWhen Gentile Christians come into a more Jewish understanding of their faith, the initial response is excitement at the clarity it brings to the Scriptures and the person of Messiah. After a period of time, however, questions of identity arise as they are immersed in a heavily Israel and Judeo-centric environment where everything, including the synagogue liturgy, speaks almost exclusively of the Jewish people and their relationship to God. Understandably this would cause certain insecurities to arise, and perhaps even a feeling of: “What am I? Chopped liver?”

-Jordan Levy
“The Crowning Jewels of the Nations”
from Messiah Journal, issue 112 (Winter 2013/5773), pg 14
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

I had the opportunity to meet and get to know Jordan at FFOZ’s 2012 Shavuot Conference last Spring, so whenever I read something she’s written, I can “hear” her voice in my head, as if she’s reciting everything to me. I guess that makes reading “The Crowning Jewels of the Nations” (I commented on the first time I heard her say that phrase in this meditation) seem more personal.

Just yesterday, I published a morning meditation on distinctions (which I wrote before reading Jordan’s article) and now I can see how I can better build up what I’ve been trying to say by borrowing from Jordan’s perspective on the same matter. To be fair, I’ve been pondering all this since the last time I saw her and the other FFOZ writers and scholars, and the portrait that they have been painting before my eyes over the past eight months or so has become continually more clear and meaningful. In speaking of tikkun olam, I can also hear my own voice as I read Jordan’s words.

One thing we must clarify from the start in this movement, which contains within it a mixed multitude, is the healthy distinction between Jew and Gentile. But why is there a distinction at all? And why should we be so zealous and stalwart in trying to maintain it? Because if we do not, then the Gentiles will not be able to participate in the redemption of Israel and the redemption of the world at all!

-Levy, pg 14

What? Jordan is saying that we Gentile believers must maintain a specific and distinct identity from the believing Jews in the Messianic community in order to fulfill our unique role in performing tikkun olam. In other words, by some Gentiles mimicking Jewish identity, they are excluding themselves from the very purpose God designed them (us) to fulfill.

Most Christians in most churches don’t have any sort of problem in maintaining an identity distinction separate from the Jews but neither do most of them (us) believe that they have any special duty to the Jews because of that distinction. Interestingly enough, I wrote about such a Christian duty just a few days ago, but Jordan points to something even bigger.

Then the sons of foreigners will build your walls and their kings will serve you. Though I struck you in My indignation, in My favor have I been compassionate to you.

Isaiah 60:10 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

In Isaiah, God speaks through the prophet, saying: “Foreigners shall build up your walls, and their kings shall minister to you; for in my wrath I struck you, but in my favor I have had mercy on you.” The natural and honest conclusion that is reached from this verse is that the Gentile task is rebuilding the fallen walls of Israel, creating fortification and security in order that Israel might complete their task, which is, according to the same prophet, to rebuild the ancient ruins, to raise up the foundations of many generations, and to repair the breach (Isaiah 58:12). Jews cannot do this if the Gentiles do not first build the protective walls.

-Levy, pg 15

Given the context, I don’t imagine we’re talking about groups of Christians rebuilding literal walls around Jerusalem, so what are we rebuilding?

Gentiles have the unique opportunity to provide comfort for the aching Jewish heart and soul. With a long, brutal history of persecution – inquisitions, blood libels, pogroms, holocausts – from the non-Jewish world, believing Gentiles are provided with the mission, as non-Jews themselves, of rectifying past wrongs and fulfilling the words spoken by HaShem: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed;” or by King David: “You made me the head of the nations; people whom I had not known served me.” (Psalm 18:43)

-Levy, pg 16

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAChristians cannot play out our role in history and in the economy of God’s plan for us of repairing our damaged relationship with the Jews if we insist on fusing our identity with the Jewish people. In doing so, we would not only prevent the Jews from accomplishing their Holy tasks, we would be undermining our own. Often Jews in the Messianic movement (and Christians like me) complain that Christianity, even within Hebrew Roots, has a long history of attempting to supersede the unique Jewish role and identity, but the door swings both ways according to Jordan.

However, in just this same manner, Jews cannot replace or supersede Gentiles within God’s master plan either. Jews do not possess the sole power of bringing about God’s will and kingdom; this is a joint effort that requires each distinct group to play their own distinct role.

-ibid

Not that Jews really desire to “supersede” the Christian role in “God’s master plan” but it does add some perspective in terms of just how important our role is and how so much hinges upon the Gentile Christian maintaining his/her identity in order to fulfill God’s will in summoning the Kingdom of Heaven within our midst.

That may require more than a little sacrifice on our part. I used to entertain the fantasy of making aliyah to Israel (this was quite a number of years ago and I have since abandoned that ambition). After all, my wife is Jewish and if she made aliyah, as her spouse, naturally, I would be allowed to live in Israel with her. For those of us who, for whatever reason, are drawn to Judaism, Jewish thought and philosophy, and a love of the Land of Israel, there is a desire to not only walk her hills and explore her springs and deserts, but to actually live there and be part of supporting the Land.

Alas, for most of us, it is not to be, for that is not our place.

I desperately wish to make clear that, according to Scripture, the Gentile calling is not to try to get to the land of Israel for themselves, their call is to bring the Jewish people to the land! As the prophesy states: “Behold, I will lift up my hand to the nations, and raise my signal to the peoples; and they shall bring your sons in their arms, and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders.” (Isaiah 49:22)

-Levy, pg 17

Jordan calls the Gentile Christians to be like “wall builders surrounding the Jewish people like a fortress,” evoking images of Christian protector over the people and nation of Israel. Given current political realities, at least in the United States, it seems difficult to imagine how we could make that come true unless we could somehow override the present direction of our Government toward Israel and Middle East policy.

However, there may be another road available.

So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous.

Romans 11:11 (ESV)

Many non-Jews have quoted the Romans 11:11 clause to “making the Jews jealous” as their main mandate as Gentile believers, and many have attempted to do this through various different methods; few have been successful. Understandably, living a life with the purpose of making people turn green with envy is not a covetous calling for someone who loves the LORD and loves his people. This word from Paul, let’s be honest, seems somewhat unethical when we read it in this English translation. However, the Greek word “zelos” is translated into Hebrew as “kin’ah,” which means “zealousness.” So actually, Paul’s words should really be understood as bringing Jews to zealousness. This is a mission that is a lot easier to comprehend and enact.

-Levy, pg 18

Zealousness? Zealousness about what? I can’t speak to Jordan’s comparison of the Greek and Hebrew words, but given the context, I’d have to say, zealousness toward Torah, toward Israel, and toward God. When I first heard Jordan talk about this last May, as I indicated above, I took it personally. I’m a Christian husband married to a Jewish wife, so if I’m supposed to inspire a zealousness for Torah in the Jewish people, where better to start than my Jewish family?

Easier said than done, since as you probably know, there are often more available avenues to inspiring strangers than members of your own family or even your own hometown.

And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them.

Mark 6:4-5 (ESV)

long-distance-runnerIf even Jesus found that a prophet has little honor in his own hometown, then how much more difficult will the “ordinary Christian” find it to provoke zealousness within his family?

And yet our witness to the Jewish people is not without its rewards, even if we see no appreciable fruit in this lifetime, we know we have served God as He desired and “run the race” as He has commanded. We have served and obeyed the voice of our Master.

Those who work to live in their identity yet who provide and support a Jewish space for Jews to enter and learn about and worship their Messiah, I put in the classification of “the crowning jewels of the nations.” These are people who are a blessing and are repairers of the world. Their humility makes them great heroes of faith that are an inspiration to all who know them. They are tzaddikei hagoyim (the righteous of the nations) who will be honored not only in this life, but in the life to come.

May HaShem bless and keep you as you continue to bless and work alongside your fellow laborers in rebuilding the walls of the fallen tent of David, the house of Jacob.

-Levy, pp 20-21

I know it probably seems like I just copied and pasted all of Jordan’s article into this blog post, but actually I quoted from just a small fraction of her missive. I encourage you to read everything she wrote, as well as peruse the writings of the many other fine authors and scholars who have contributed to the current issue of Messiah Journal

May you find illumination within its pages, just as I have.

Read another of my reviews of Jordan’s writing in the “meditation,” In the Name of the Lord…Yehoshua?